Some Pointers on Driver’s License Points

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared as NMA Newsletter #352 in October 2015. The information is still current and important information for any motorists who wants to learn more about driver’s license points. To receive the NMA weekly E-Newsletter, subscribe HERE today!

One of the most common questions we get from members is how many points will a given violation add to their driving record. It’s an important question, but it’s not the only one to ask after you get a traffic ticket. You also need to know how many points it takes to trigger a license suspension.

The answers to both questions depend on which state you received the ticket. This is because different states use different systems for assessing points against your license, and some don’t use points at all.

Traffic violation point systems assign a certain number of points for each traffic citation based on the severity of the offense. If you’re convicted of that offense, the points go on your driving record. Accumulate enough points, and you lose your license.

The number of points assigned per violation varies considerably from state-to-state, as does the threshold for suspension. In California, most violations only cost you one or two points, but you can lose your license if you accumulate four or more points over 12 months. In Wisconsin, speeding up to 10 mph over the speed limit will add three points to your record, and you will lose your license if you accumulate 12 points over a 12 month period. In Utah a speeding violation can run up to 75 points, but you won’t lose your license until you hit 200 or more points in three years.

To make matters even more complicated, nine states (HI, KS, LA, MN, MS, OR, RI, WA, WY) don’t track points, but that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook if you get a ticket. They still monitor your driving behavior to determine if any action against your license is warranted. In the state of Washington, for example, if you’re ticketed for six moving violations over 12 months, you’ll lose your driver’s license for 60 days.

Keep in mind that the points aren’t automatic; you have to be convicted of the offense before they apply. All the more reason to fight every ticket you get, especially if you’re driving record isn’t spotless to begin with. Points usually stay on your record for around three years, but some, like those assessed for a DUI conviction, can stay on for 10 years or more. Check your driving record routinely to see what’s on it. You can order a copy online with your state DMV for a nominal fee.

Points on your driving record can affect your insurance rates, but the relationship may not be as direct as you think. This is because insurance companies don’t necessarily pay close attention to DMV points. They instead use their own points/ratings systems to calculate rates and surcharges using data compiled from third-party sources. This explains why violations that don’t show up on your driving record, like photo-based tickets in most states, can still raise your insurance rates.

This last fact contradicts the frequently repeated statement from politicians, “safety” advocates and camera vendors that camera tickets won’t increase your insurance rates. The NMA refuted this in a prior newsletter, but it’s insightful to consider this chart from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety which lays out camera ticket penalties by state.

In states like California and Arizona where red-light camera citations carry points, there will be insurance consequences. But in states like Maryland or New York the chart notes that red-light camera tickets “may not be used by insurers.” This implies that they are used by insurers in other states. Look at Rhode Island, for example, where it states that red-light camera tickets are “not to be used by insurers until there is a final adjudication of the violation.”

So, what can you do to minimize the impact of points on your driving record and your insurance rates? Here are a few tips:

  • Learn how the point system in your state works. You can track that down on your state’s DMV website or start here.
  • Request a copy of your driving record from your DMV and from your insurance company.
  • Fight every ticket to the best of your ability.
  • If you don’t win a dismissal, try to negotiate down to a non-moving violation or see if you’re eligible to take a traffic safety course as a way to remove points from your record.
  • Check the language in your auto insurance policy, which may spell out your carrier’s underwriting standards.
  • Call your insurance provider if you have questions about the impact a specific traffic citation will have on your rates.

Check out these additional resources on Fighting Traffic Tickets from the NMA:

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